Salted Caramel Popcorn Cheesecake
About a month ago, my grandparents came to visit Boston and we went out to eat at a cute restaurant that served brunch food. For dessert, we ordered caramel popcorn and were surprised to find out that due to poor menu-labeling it was actually a flan with a few popped kernels on top as a garnish. I was intrigued by how well the combination of custard, caramel, and popcorn all went together. However, I hate flan. So when it was time for my experiment, I went with the next best thing - cheesecake!
I love cheesecake. I love it's perfectly smooth sides and the denseness. I love the faint tangy smell from the cream cheese and the way it sounds when you take a forkful. Most of all I love the way it tastes..creamy...smooth...magical. The thing about cheesecake is when it doesn't look done - it's done. Luckily, I nailed the timing and the this cheesecake emerged fully cooked without any cracks on the top.
As for the caramel sauce, I was genuinely impressed with myself. About three years ago I tired making caramel and for lack of a better term - burned the crap out of it. Not only did it smell like burnt sugar for hours but the stuff is near impossible to clean off cookware once it hardens. This time around I was able to correctly gauge the timing and the sauce came out SO GOOD. If you can get it right, it's only four ingredients and makes a ton. I doused the cheesecake heavily and also was able to make about 8 cups of caramel corn.
One more note, this is the FIRST recipe on my blog that instructs to use "an electric mixer with a paddle attachment" and that is because this is the FIRST time I get to use one! That's right..I am the owner of an Aqua Sky blue KitchenAid Stand Mixer!! Woohoo! Also of note, the beautiful flowers are a birthday gift from Zac and the work of the talented Krissy at Pollen Floral Design!
Salted Caramel Popcorn Cheesecake
Level of Difficulty: Advanced
For the Crust
- 2 cups of Graham cracker crumbs
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch salt
- 5-6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the Filling
- 2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 4 large eggs
- 2/3 cup sour cream
- 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
For the Topping
- Salted Caramel Sauce, store bought or homemade
- Caramel Corn, store bought or homemade
Prepare the Crust
- Prepare a 9" springform pan so that no water leaks into it while cooking. Place the springform pan in the middle of a piece of foil and gently fold up the sides of the foil around the pan. Make sure to do this gently so that you don't create any holes in the foil. If there are any holes, water will get into the pan and ruin the crust. Press the foil around the edges of the pan. Place a second large square of foil underneath the pan, and repeat, gently folding up the sides of the foil around the pan and pressing the foil against the pan. Gently crimp the top of the foil sheets around the top edge of the pan.
- Preheat oven to 350°F, with rack in lower third of oven. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Put in a large bowl, and stir in the sugar and salt. Use your hands to stir in the melted butter.
- Put all but 1/4 cup of the graham cracker crumbs in the bottom of the springform pan. (Save the remaining 1/4 cup for if you happen to have any holes that need to be filled in, either while you are making the crust, or after the cake has cooked and you've unmolded it.) Gently press down on the crumbs using your fingers, until the crumbs are a nice even layer at the bottom of the pan, with maybe just a slight rise along the inside edges of the pan. Be careful as you do this, as not to tear the aluminum foil. Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
Prepare the Filling
- Cut the cream cheese into chunks and place in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for 4 minutes until smooth, soft and creamy. Add the sugar, beat for 4 minutes more. Add the salt and vanilla, beating after each addition. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add the sour cream, beat until incorporated. Add the heavy cream, beat until incorporated. Remember to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl, and scrape up any thicker bits of cream cheese that have stuck to the bottom of the mixer that paddle attachment has failed to incorporate.
Cook the Cheesecake
- Place the foil-wrapped springform pan in a large, high-sided roasting pan. Pour the cream cheese filling into the springform pan, over the graham cracker bottom layer. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Place the roasting pan with the springform pan in it, in the oven, on the lower rack. Carefully pour 2 quarts of water into the roasting pan to create a water bath for the cheesecake, pouring until the water reaches halfway up the side of the springform pan, about 1 1/4 inches. This will prevent cracking.
- Cook at 325°F for 1 1/2 hours
- Turn off the heat of the oven. Crack open the oven door 1-inch, and let the cake cool in the oven, as the oven cools, for another hour. This gentle cooling will help prevent the cheesecake surface from cracking.
- Cover the top of the cheesecake with foil, so that it doesn't actually touch the cheesecake. Chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.
Garnish the Cheesecake
- When ready to serve, douse heavily with salted caramel sauce and top with caramel corn